“The Other: Evolve or Die - Part 3: Rage”
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Mike Deodato (p), Joe Pimentel (i), Matt Milla (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Again, I'm going to have to ask what the editors at Marvel actually do all day, because someone should be checking these “Previously…” blurbs. Apparently a very important event happened in the last episode of “The Other,” but did you spot it? No? Don't worry, because the blurb will tell you all about it. Now I might be crazy, but a major plot element like Peter Parker finding out that *** ********* ** ******** should, in my poor deluded opinion, be something that happens in the comic itself, not on a recap page an issue later. I thought that when they revealed the identity of a villain in an issue of Avengers before the villain had actually appeared that it was a one-off, but they've been doing something similar consistently since. That's when they've actually had some relation to the contents of the comics of course; I've read a couple that appear to have been about a completely different title to the one they were printed in. I mean really, how hard is it for a professional comics editor to check 100 words for accuracy? As for the issue itself, well, “The Other” is treading water again. There are some mildly interesting twists and developments, but at this stage they seem rather too disconnected from the main plot; I'm fairly confident that when this storyline is read as a whole, Aunt May's guilt over her mother's death will make sense, but at the moment it's more of a distraction. Similarly, the introduction of new villain Tracer (now revealed to be Ginger Goatee Ultron) seems to have had no significance whatsoever, and Morlun's appearances add nothing to the plot. Spidey's ill, his powers aren't working, and he's hallucinating; we knew all this *before* the storyline even began, and three issues in, some sort of structure should be becoming clear. This storyline needs a stronger focus to maintain interest, not just one limp and vague mystery flopped on top of another.
But there is a silver lining! We get another good issue from Mike Deodato, as he again proves that the worse the script, the better his art becomes. I really wish that he'd drop the weird crosshatching thing when drawing people's faces (unless that's a Pimentel addition), but this really is a good-looking issue. There are some fun action scenes, and there's a palpable feeling of simmering tension in the discussion between Aunt May and Tracer, largely down to the effective contrast between the utterly natural and jovial way the art team present the scene and the truth that we readers know.
So, the first act of “The Other” is done with, and beyond a rather vaguely defined theme of death, the point of all of this is really rather unclear. Peter David is a great writer, and yet he's been unable to make this work; next up is Reginald Hudlin, and given how his Spider-Man issues have been received thus far, I don't anticipate an upswing in quality. House of M turned out to be an utter waste of time and effort, and at this point, I don't see “The Other” being any different.
Plot: While the city’s electrical grid goes nuts, May is haunted by guilty dreams in Stark Tower, and then by a sneaky Spider-foe. Peter, meanwhile, is haunted by his fading powers.
Comments: Maybe it’s just the continuity of the Deodato art, but I’d have no way of knowing this wasn’t a JMS issue without the credits. There’s very little of David’s trademark humor, as this issue is all about Spidey suffering, and Aunt May grieving.
May continues to prove her usefulness as a character. Her perspective and life, from a position of age and wisdom in her nephew’s wacky and intermittently magical world, is interesting. The threats here seen typically grim and masochistic for Peter. His powers are on the fritz, there are enigmatic warnings from villains who have yet to engage him directly, and his loved ones are in deadly danger.
However, there are a few gleams of hope. Wolverine (and of all people, he actually makes sense to do it, considering the meaning his X-family have in his life) extends a helping hand to his Avengers colleague. And even Peter’s foe takes pity on him when he sees the shape he’s in. Well, maybe that’s not so hopeful. It’s kind of a drag to see Jason
Priestly (Deodato’s model for Peter) involved in an terminal illness; I’m not involved enough to keep reading all the other crossover parts to see how Peter “evolves.” Deodato’s storytelling continues to give this Spider-title, at least, a distinctive look, and I may check in again when JMS is back.
I’ve seen a surprising amount of defensiveness on the part of Peter David regarding this storyline. He’s popped up in numerous interviews and on more than one comics message board to counter those who accuse Marvel of scuppering the first three issues of his Spider-Man run with editorial constraints and unfortunately, despite his best protestations to the contrary, I can’t help but feel that the first three issues of “The Other” aren’t the story he wanted to tell with his debut. We’re one very good comic and one stinker into “The Other” now, and this third issue just about manages to tip the balance to allow Peter David to leave his stint on the crossover with some dignity.
David writes a simply-structured story here, based around Aunt May’s conversation with new Spider-Man villain Tracer in the kitchen of Stark Tower whilst the other Avengers are out on call. May is given some depth by the opening dream sequence which lets us inside her head (and again foreshadows death in the Spider-Man family), and David’s characterisation of Spidey’s oldest loved one imbues her with an inner strength which is important if we’re to see her as a meaningful friend and parent-figure for Peter. She’s shown to be confident, intelligent and able to hold her own in the fantastical world of super-heroes; she’s also given a chance to develop and grow as a character in a scene in which she talks with Peter’s Uncle Ben about her new relationship with Jarvis. It’s promising to see Marvel allowing previously stagnant properties to evolve like this, and in the years since JMS wrote the story in which Peter revealed his secret identity to May, the character has been given a great opportunity to be a more important part of Spider-Man’s world once again. To his credit, Peter David seems to “get” what makes her an important character, and his writing certainly seems stronger this issue than when he tackled Mary Jane in part 2 of “The Other.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the writer has been partnered with what is to my mind the strongest art team out of all three Spider-Man monthlies, and it’s been excellent to see Deodato really come into his own over the past year or so of stories. His depiction of Aunt May is pivotal to this issue, and Deodato’s visuals complement David’s text to make her really feel alive as a character – which is a great improvement on the kind of basic frail-old-woman persona which dominated the character’s appearances for years. The artist doesn’t get much action to depict this time round, but when the final confrontation between Spidey and Tracer does come it’s as effectively swift and brutal as the script demands. Deodato’s Tracer is the most satisfying visual take on this new character so far, and the quiet menace which lurks behind his glowing eyes is a big part of what makes the scene between him and May so tense and chilling. Deodato also serves up a sufficiently nasty-looking Morlun in yet another cameo appearance, although it’s still not really apparent where he fits into the story yet.
It’s clear that David has a strong grasp of the character’s he’s writing here, as well as a good sense of where Peter’s life is right now. He’s able to imbue the modern Spider-Man with a very classic feel, and the conflicts that he presents relate to fundamental and significant facets of the Spider-Man character and mythos. Sadly, the story ideas which work best are the ones which are more-or-less unrelated to the central 12-issue story, and it’s a shame to see him constrained by the storytelling shackles which are inherent in such a strictly co-ordinated multi-title crossover. The “Tracer” storyline would have worked well as an arc in its own right, but the constant cameo appearances of an uncharacteristically reticent-to-act Morlun and the vague nature of the still-unnamed disease affecting Peter (which we are told is terminal, although this information comes as much through the recap pages as any discussion of the illness by the characters) can’t help but remind the reader that they’re being strung along into buying into a larger story. Unfortunately, this bigger picture is revealing itself so slowly that many readers would be forgiven for dropping the story at this stage. If anything, these three opening issues suggest that, if left to his own devices, Peter David could have made the first three issues of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man much more of a success than these middling crossover preludes have been, when taken as a whole.
Personally, I’m optimistic about the kind of story we could see once Morlun returns in full force, when the significance of “The Other” becomes clear, and when JMS gets to pen his three issues of the crossover in December. But before then we’ve got the turn of Reginald Hudlin, who is a relatively unknown quantity to me. Still, I’m hoping he can build on the basic foundations provided by David to move the story on significantly and actually clue us in as to what “The Other” is all about, because at this stage, the reader really should have some idea. Sadly, past experience would lead me to believe that Marvel will string this crossover out as long as possible, and it may not get much better any time soon. I’m hoping to be proved wrong – but I wouldn’t bet on it.
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